Bad Wolfe of the Rise
A brilliant blue sky stretched above the crowd. Oliver turned his face up to the sun’s warm caress. A beautiful day to die. De Wolfe’s men would not let him escape once it was done. Purpose coursed hot and strong through his veins. Finally, he stood ready. Strong enough to challenge the mighty de Wolfe and win.
“Wolfe! Wolfe! Wolfe!” More voices joined the swelling chorus welcoming their hero home. Folk hung over the ramparts of Questing Castle, straining to catch a glimpse of the man they adored.
“See how he rides ahead of the men?” Mother stood on her toes, clawing his forearm as she whispered in his ear. “He believes no one can conquer him. Such is his overweening arrogance. Do you see?”
He put precious inches between him and Mother’s needy clinging. It stifled him, made the breath tighten in his throat. Like too-tight swaddling her need wrapped around him. Knowing what she required of him, he stood ready and resolved. “You should not be here.”
“Where else would I be?” She frowned. Year after year she brought him here in preparation for the day he would exact their revenge.
As he led his small column of men through the throng of villagers, William de Wolfe, the people’s savior, their precious soldier-god and hero sat astride his destrier like he and the beast were of one mind. People reached out to brush de Wolfe, believing that a mere touch would afford them protection.
Would they still chant their worship if they knew de Wolfe had tried to kill his own child?
“He is so tall.” Giggling, a girl grabbed her friend’s arm. “They say he is so handsome a maid would swoon at the sight of him.”
If they hung about de Wolfe they would not remain maids for long. Murderer of babes, defiler of maids, cruel, vicious brute. So mired in the lure of de Wolfe’s foul magic, would they believe if he told them?
Above the crowd noise rode a woman’s shrill scream. “I love you, de Wolfe.”
Fever bright, Mother’s gaze darted this way and that. Her cheeks bore a high flush as she pressed the cold steel hilt of the sword into his hand. “It is time.”
The pommel, so familiar in his hands, warmed to his touch. Driving him forward, the sword sang in his blood, Oliver pushed through a knot of de Wolfe’s blind worshippers.
“Watch yourself.” A man turned and snarled. Wide-eyed, he stepped out of Oliver’s way, tugging another with him.
The chanting died down. Carrying Oliver with them, the crowd surged closer to de Wolfe.
Graceful in his full armor, de Wolfe dismounted, and removed his helmet. Sunlight struck his dark hair as he glanced about.
“Cut him down quickly.” Sticking to his side, no taller than his shoulder, Mother wrapped her fist in his tunic. “Do not give him the chance to reach for his sword.”
“It makes no matter.” Oliver shoved past a couple of burly kitchen drudges. “I am better than him.”
Hard enough to stop him, Mother pinched him. “Stupid boy!” Spittle hit his nape. “Do not assume you can best him. The devil himself rides his blade and guides it true to the heart of his enemies.” Like a festering wound in her breast, the poison of her hatred had spread to her mind over the years. In the matter of William de Wolfe Mother was quite mad.
“Let go of me.” He yanked her claws from his arm. “People are beginning to take note.”
With a vacant expression, a young laundress studied the two of them. Raising her fore and middle fingers like talons, Mother hissed at the girl. The girl paled and slid into the crowd. At times Mother’s reputation as a witch came in very handy.
A sudden, sickening sensation gripped him. His vision went hazy, and his gut roiled. The sword hilt burned so hot in his hand it scalded. As if drawn that way, his gaze fell on a tall, dark man pushing through the crowds toward him. Mouth wide open, the stranger shouted something the noisy crowd bore away.
“Kill him for me, Oliver.” Mother patted between his shoulder blades. “Kill William de Wolfe and make him pay for what he has done to us.”
Ten paces away, now clearly visible through the crowd, de Wolfe spoke with the tall blond knight by his side. De Wolfe stood taller than all the men about him, his height the only gift he had given his son.
De Wolfe’s queer gold eyes passed over Oliver. Cold as a hunting wolf, and Oliver shivered. His hand sweat on the searing pommel and he gripped it tighter.
With a small frown de Wolfe studied him.
Did de Wolfe know his bastard son now? Did he see the hate in that bastard’s eyes, read his deadly purpose?
De Wolfe must die. Murdered, rapist, defiler. Legend of so many battles and whispered to be undefeatable.
Oliver shoved his fear deep, and let his hatred seep over the weakness and harden the steel of his intent.
Turning his head, de Wolfe spoke to the blond man by his side. Still, alert, warriors expecting trouble, both men watched Oliver now.
Only three people stood between de Wolfe and Oliver.
De Wolfe shifted, cleared his sword arm, and balanced his weight.
Keeping the sword low enough for the crowd to conceal it, Oliver stalked them.
“Stop!” A voice carried over the crowd. “Ciaran, Teithiwr must not be raised in anger.”
Oliver shook off the tingling foreboding and took the final step closer to de Wolfe.
De Wolfe’s sword cleared his scabbard with a hiss.
The thrill of the hunt pounded through Oliver. Today he would have his revenge or die trying. The sword branded his palms and whispered through his senses. He took a breath. He raised the sword. “Give me what my heart desires most.”